Taking out the Trash, Ash Wednesday Edition

February 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm (Community, Faith) (, , )

“Do you like Lent?” my nine-year-old asked me this morning.

“Yes, I do,” I answered, and anticipating the inevitable ‘why,’ I continued. “I like it because it’s a time of year where it’s a little easier to focus on being a good person,” but he was already at the table with a mouthful of bagel and his eyes on the sports section.

My blog posting is testimony to the fact that I like Lent. One blog post a year, whether I need it or not! But I do like Lent. It’s not that I’m a particularly somber person I don’t think, but I like the exercise of stripping away the extraneous and focusing on the essentials. It’s the same reason I love going to the kids’ school masses, and doing children’s liturgy on Sundays. I like going back to basics.

A good friend of mine said to me today that she likes Lent way more than New Year’s resolutions. I know just what she means. Lent is a little like spiritual trash collection. You bustle around, getting your spiritual house ready for Easter and the Resurrection. This year, some friends of mine and I are going to try to declutter our homes as a part of our Lenten fasts. “40 bags in 40 days.” (I can probably come up with that just out of my basement). But as tough as it’s going to be to declutter my house – you should SEE my basement – it’s even harder to declutter my mind. To get rid of all of the things don’t serve me…fear, and pride, and anger, and judgment, and criticism, among innumerable others…Maybe I should try to get rid of 40 negative feelings in 40 days. 40 bad habits in 40 days? 40 sins in 40 days! Sigh. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I have this community that helps me, and at the end of Lent, I’ll have so much space for love, and compassion, and kindness.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go tackle the coat closet. Happy Ash Wednesday, and a good Lent to you.


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Ujjayi Breath and the Burden of Being Human

July 8, 2014 at 12:50 am (Community, Faith, Yoga) (, , , )

My breath is ragged and uneven, here a grunt and there a gasp. My mind wanders, to grocery lists and carpools, to doctors’ appointments and dinner plans, but I reign it back in, and try, for the umpteenth time, to smooth out my exhalation, to lengthen my inhalation…to yoke my breath to my movement to my brain. I’m at yoga, and I can hear the ujjayi breath of the men and women around me. Breath with sound…it is even, ineluctable. It washes over me like the waves of the ocean. I close my eyes, even though I’m not supposed to, and bathe in the sound. I can’t add to it. If the combined breath of the men and women in that room is the Atlantic Ocean, mine is a little creek, so insignificant it dries up in the summer, so unimportant it’s short i, not long e.


My mind wanders again, but this time to the words of the gospel I heard yesterday at mass.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

I heard the same gospel at a funeral a few weeks ago. “The yoke doesn’t seem easy or light,” said the priest. “It only becomes that way because we share the burden together.” I held onto that thought as I choked my way through the familiar prayers and hymns, adding my voice thick with tears to the rest of the congregation’s. “There is nothing I can say or do,” I thought. “But I am here, with these people, saying these words and singing these songs. It is nothing, but it is all I can do. Maybe it is enough.”

And so I join my little creek to the ocean of sound as I move through my yoga practice. In and out, labored and burdened, but shared. What I have, I will add to the room. What I can, I will give.

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Cultivating Joy

April 20, 2014 at 9:58 pm (Faith, Kids) (, , )

Last fall, Lucy and I planted 200 tulip bulbs. Tulips are my very favorite flower, and have been since at least high school, which may be the longest I’ve ever gone without changing my mind about something. It was a sunny September day with a bite in the air, and we knelt down in the mud and clay, dug 200 holes, filled them with bone meal, carefully set in the bulbs, and covered them up with earth. As the season wore on, the weather turned cold, and then very cold. The leaves changed and fell. We raked enormous piles that the kids jumped in, and we raked some more. It snowed, and we danced for the sheer joy of it. Then it snowed and snowed and snowed, and when it snowed at the beginning of April, we almost cried. It truly felt as if spring might never come. We wondered how many of the tulips would come up, if any. Would they become dinner for hungry squirrels and chipmunks? Were they frozen to death under the ground? Had we done it right? Had they survived? I think any gardener will tell you that planting something is an act of faith, and hope. I think all gardeners have to be a little bit of optimists in their hearts. So we waited. And waited and waited and waited.

And then, obstinately, defiantly, those tulips forced their way up. The snow wasn’t even gone yet, there was still ice on the lake, and we still bundled up in hats and scarves as we walked past those stubborn tulips. We checked on them every day, measuring their progress, watching them grow from green little fingers in the ground to suspiciously tulip-shaped leaves on suspiciously tulip-shaped plants. They haven’t bloomed yet, and there might not be 200 of them, but they’re there, growing and changing from something that looked dead to something that is not only alive, but beautiful.


Today is Easter. What was dead is alive. Where there was sadness, there is now great joy. It’s warm enough for me to sit on my porch with my laptop, after having gone for the very first family bike ride of the season. We went to the Easter Vigil last night, the Easter Bunny hid a nice amount of eggs in the backyard this morning which the kids found at the crack of dawn and we ate too much ham and drank too much champagne at lunch. It has been a happy day. But now we need to keep it up. As our pastor said, we need to celebrate Easter for an entire season. In fact, we Catholics are supposed to be an Easter people, a people of joy all year long. We’re supposed to be optimists and hopeful and believers, and joy-spreaders. Gardeners, so to speak. That’s hard sometimes. I think I might be better at Lent. I’m good at rules, and I’m probably a little too good at sad, and introspection, and deserts. But I did plant those tulips…I bet I can get better at cultivating joy.

A very, very happy Easter from the Belfry to wherever you are.

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Dialing Down the Crazy…a True Story of Ash Wednesday, Yoga and Gilbert & Sullivan

March 5, 2014 at 4:42 am (Faith, Kids) (, , , )

Aaaaaaaand it’s Ash Wednesday again – my blogiversary, and the beginning of perhaps my favorite church season, Lent. I was sort of stumped on what to write about, to tell you the truth, but determined to think of something since Ash Wednesday is evidently THE ONLY day I won’t let pass without a blog post, and phew! here it is. My annual post.

So at yoga, you can set an intention before you begin your practice. For me anyway, it makes my work on the mat a physical expression of prayer, like the dervishes, or the Shakers, except with incense and lycra. I often go through my mental Rolodex of friends and family before class or my own private practice, offering up my effort for the people I love best. (It’s interesting how it works…the two seem to dovetail until the person I’m praying for and the practice mirror or match each other. A while ago, I set one of my dearest friends who was going through a tough time as my intention, and the yoga was hard. Or I set my youngest child who radiates light as my intention, and the yoga was easy).

Anyway. I escaped to class last night by bribing my husband to take our son to violin, and getting take-out burgers for dinner. Before class began, I was thinking about who to pray for, and my oldest daughter popped into my head. I have some people on my list who ostensibly need prayin’ a whole lot more than she does, but thinking of her working on her book report at the dining table as I dashed through on my way out the door made me smile, so I offered up the class for her. For Riley, I said, closing my eyes and smiling as I stood at the top of my mat.

As class began, my teacher said we would work on backbends (boo!) and reminded us not to let our minds boss us around. Well, I’m paraphrasing, but her point was that while we need to respect and be compassionate toward our bodies and their limits, sometimes our brains put the brakes on way before they need to…and that frequently we are capable of more than we give ourselves credit for. She also pointed out that backbending, which is considered to aid the nervous system, can be intense, and can open you up to a lot of emotion.

If you know my daughter, a lot of that will seem pretty pertinent. And if you don’t, you can take my word for it. She’s nervous, she’s intense, she’s emotional, and she has a fiercely big brain which frankly, gives her a lot of guff.

That’s all very nice, you say, and kind of a cool coincidence, but what about Ash Wednesday? Patience, grasshopper. I’m coming to that part.

So my darling daughter has a problem with overreacting to things. Falling apart because she asked the wrong person for Fiddling Fernando in Go Fish for example, or exploding because her brother is being poky tying his shoes again. Actually, to be truthful, it’s us that have the problem with her overreacting. I don’t know. I think sometimes her gauge of what’s reasonable just needs to be rejiggered. We had a great conversation about it the other day, and we came up with the idea that I could just shoot a codeword at her, and then she’d know that maybe she was at DEFCON 1, when really 5 was all that was called for. and maybe that would pull her back from the emotional cliff.

And here’s where Gilbert & Sullivan come in. I got the idea from Ruddigore, a G&S operetta I was in in grad school. I played a character named Mad Margaret who is unhinged by lost love when you meet her in the first act, but who is (mostly) cured when she is eventually reunited with her soulmate, Sir Despard. Mags has the terrific idea that when she veers off course into CrazyTown, Sir Despard can pull her back by saying only “Basingstoke,” the name of a real town in England. I don’t know whether it’s crazy or not. I’ve never been. But anyway Riley and I now have our own version of “Basingstoke,” and I won’t tell you what it is, because that would defeat the whole purpose of the codeword.


And NOW I sew this all up together with Lent. I realized during yoga last night, mid-backbend, that Lent is our Basingstoke. Life is so bananas, batshit crazy most of the time for all of us that we LIVE on the edge of the cliff…but every year Lent rolls around again saying “Basingstoke!” which really means “yes, your schedule wants to eat you alive, and your children make demands on you and your parents need you and you’re neglecting friends and you’ve only gone to yoga a couple of times since your New Year’s resolution to go all the time, and you’ve blown several obligations and you didn’t see a single movie in the theater in the whole of last year, and you’re drinking too much and you’re eating crap and you gossip and you don’t have faith, but take a minute. In fact, take 57,600 minutes -that’s how many minutes there are in the 40 days of Lent – and do these three things: Pray. Fast. Give alms. Or put it another way if that’s too churchy for you: Reflect. Streamline. Love more.”

So this Ash Wednesday, that’s what I’ve got for you: Basingstoke. And maybe more yoga.

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Where Joy Resides

November 3, 2013 at 8:12 pm (Community, Faith, Kids) (, , )

My oldest child is in another professional play. She’s having a good season, it must be said. She had just finished one play when she started rehearsals for the next gig. Like seriously, the very next day. And she’s been spending HOURS downtown at rehearsal. My life, for the next two months, is chaffeusing. (I made that word up, I’m very proud of it, and I like how it sounds way more than what it means). In fact, our communal schedule is so bananas, we gave her a phone. And yes, the fact that I am now the kind of parent who gives a ten-year-old (almost eleven) a phone is horrifying. In fairness, it’s not hers to keep, it’s just so that when I drop her off in front of the theater, double-parked in heavy traffic with the blinkers on, my throat hoarse from cursing the other drivers on the way downtown, she can run out and text me from the fourth floor, “Hey Mommy” – she still calls me ‘mommy,’ the darling, darling girl – “I made it. I’m safe. I’ll see you at 9.” Actually, her first morning with the phone she texted me three times, saying “Mommy, I love you so so so much.” Frankly, I don’t know why we didn’t give her one ages ago. I need the affirmation.

Cover girl

Cover girl

Anyway. Yesterday the director and the children’s director and the stage managers were kind enough to meet with the clueless parents to try to explain the mysteries of producing a show. I had 82 questions about how to read the call sheet, explaining who is expected at rehearsal when. If Riley isn’t cast there again, I’m sure it will be my fault. “The kid is great, but that mom is pretty dim – I have serious concerns about the gene pool…” I appreciated the director’s honesty as he explained that while he hopes that the kids have a good experience, it isn’t his paramount goal…that putting on the very best production they can is of primary importance. And then he thanked us. HE thanked US…for letting them have our kids, and for driving, and for shifting schedules and all the rest. He has a two-year-old, he said, so he isn’t there yet, but he recognizes how difficult the demands of the show will be. It was a nice gesture, but here’s what I would have said if I hadn’t been on my best behavior.

“Are you effing kidding me? Listen, your kid is two, so you’re stuck playing with Little People and watching Backyardigans and running around trying to make sure she doesn’t kill herself, so you don’t know this yet, but let me tell you something. Watching your kid discover what she loves is one of the most magnificent experiences a parent can have. Seeing her be good at that thing is sublime. And if she has success at that thing that she loves and is good at? That is one of the most profound joys you can have, I think. At least it is for me.

My daughter has come home from rehearsal every day glowing. Seriously, she is glowing, like an alien or an angel. Her happiness wells up from her toes and explodes out of her mouth in happy chatter all the way home. She is delirious to go to rehearsal and disappointed when she doesn’t. And this magic is not just stagecraft. She’s so happy and confident, she’s doing things she’s never done before, like scoring goals in soccer, and walking home by herself from the store. She even likes school a little bit now, which hasn’t been the case since kindergarten. So thank you. Thank YOU. Thank you for the opportunity, and for recognizing the pure gold from which my daughter’s heart is fashioned. You have excellent taste, and I promise, she’s way smarter than I am.”

Pearl S. Buck said that “Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.” I think sometimes in this parenting business we fail to see that. Family life is challenging and growing pains hurt, duh. The minutia of day-to-day life can be pretty soul-sucking. So I am so freaking grateful for this tsunami of joy that has entered our household. I’m gonna dive in and enjoy the ride.

“And, the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

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Life in the Desert

September 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , , )

We celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary on Sunday, so that means it’s been 12 years since 9/11/01. There are lots of posts about 9/11 on my Facebook feed this morning, prayers for peace, and “I will never forget” badges and the like. Me, I’m going to be spending the day trying to get organized for the kindergarten party on Saturday, getting the Battle of the Books stuff done, and paying bills. I think that’s ok. Life goes on.

I was in Arizona over the weekend. It was 80 bazillion degrees the day we got there – the heat was so intense as soon as we got off the plane, it felt like being punched in the gut. The desert is beautiful, albeit not beautiful in the way my Wisconsin soul typically imagines beautiful. We climbed a mountain, a little one anyway, on Saturday morning. I took pictures of every cactus I saw, fascinated by their foreignness. On Saturday night it rained, just a little, and by Sunday morning, the brown and seemingly barren mountain was green. It had exploded with life in the space of 24 hours.


I think we humans are the same way. Give us half a chance, and like the desert with that tiny bit of rain, we won’t just choose life, we’ll seize it. There are moments when life seems fragile, but paradoxically, it’s tenacious at the same time. We’re tenacious. We have to be.

So here we are, 12 years on, and our country is considering military action in Syria. I don’t have the answer. (Wouldn’t that be awesome if I did? Middle-aged suburban housewife solves Syria question. Sigh.) All I can tell you is what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to teach my children to do: Choose life. Choose peace. Grow.

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The Lesson of Martha – take 2

July 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm (Faith) (, )

I had Children’s Liturgy of the Word today, and why that always happens the morning after a late night, I do not know. I was grateful though, because as I drank a few cups of coffee and looked over the readings for today, I had a new thought about today’s gospel story about Mary and Martha.

I’ve written about this story before. And I have a draft of another post about it too. So it’s obviously one that sticks with me. And if I’m totally honest, it has always kind of bugged me.

Luke 10:38-42
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”

I’m such a Martha. I recently saw a sign somewhere, probably Pinterest, the source of all stress, that said “Good moms have sticky floors, messy kitchens, laundry piles, dirty ovens and happy kids.” I’m a terrible mom by that yardstick! I can’t abide a mess. Can’t we all be happy in a nice clean and tidy house? In fact wouldn’t we be happiER in one?

Anyway. The same goes for today’s gospel – I always find myself sympathizing with Martha. I’m certain that Martha made Jesus and Mary and the other guests more comfortable with her efforts. I’m sure that she fed them well and saw to their needs. You can just tell. And I’ve always felt like Jesus was saying in the story that Martha shouldn’t have done that stuff and should have sat and listened with Mary. But today I wondered if maybe I’ve been reading it wrong. I think Jesus rebuked Martha not for doing the serving, her job, but for not valuing it, for not recognizing her contributions.

Well, and maybe a little for being a whiner.

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Why I Am Still a Catholic

July 9, 2013 at 12:59 am (Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , )

It’s a question I get asked a fair amount. How can you stay in the Church, after the child abuse scandal? when they won’t ordain women? with their stance on homosexuality/health care/contraception?

I sometimes feel like I’m targeted in a special way since I’m a political liberal, and that’s supposed to make me above religion, or beyond it, or something.

I answer that question differently based on the questioner, the day, and maybe especially, my mood, but today my answer would for sure be “the personnel.”

I was sitting with my oldest child before her audition. She was calmly flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine, (and how do I have a child old enough to care about fashion magazines?) and I was freaking out. Not outwardly of course. Outwardly I was able to maintain some semblance of cool thanks to a miracle of multitasking, as I both looked at these shoes, that bag and especially this nail polish, and simultaneously offered up prayers to Saints Genesius, Vitus and Cecilia.

Genesius was a 4th century Roman actor who was performing in a play satirizing Christian baptism when he himself felt the truth of what he was mocking and converted on the spot. Unfortunately the emperor Diocletian was not amused and ordered his execution. Talk about a bad review. Ba dum bum.

Vitus was also executed by Diocletian as it turns out. He wasn’t a performer himself, but became known as the patron of dancers when a cult from the Middle Ages prayed by dancing before his statue. Rather more unfortunately, it also gave his name to a neurological disorder, but nobody’s perfect.

Cecilia is the patroness of music and musicians, also a martyr, and the most well-known of the three I expect. However, I didn’t know until just now that she wasn’t a musician herself, but rather she heard “heavenly music” in her heart. The dates aren’t right for that music to have been J.S. Bach, but whatever. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, I passed the fifteen minutes before my daughter went in for her audition, and the half an hour it took until it was over, saying a few prayers, researching who Saints Genesius, Vitus and Cecilia were, and writing this post. I texted my Jewish husband, asking him, “What do non-Catholics do in situations like this?” He ignored me, being well practiced in that art. But seriously, I was so grateful to have some company while I waited. And there is a saint for every situation and every occasion, always there for the asking. Before I knew it, she was done, it was over, and I had only sprouted two or three new grey hairs.

So you can keep your lonely religions, and your no religions. That’s totally fine by me, I promise! Me, I’m too much of a basketcase. I need at least a saint a day – look, today I needed three in the space of 45 minutes! So I’m a Catholic. Check in with me a different day and I’ll give you a different reason.

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April 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm (Community, Faith) (, )

It was a busy Sunday, hardly a day of rest, with seemingly each member of the family running in different directions. Hockey at 7:30, clean up for the previous night’s event at 9, a performance at 11, 1 and 4…we couldn’t get to any of our usual masses, so we found ourselves at one of the “last-chance masses” downtown on Sunday evening.

We pounded sandwiches for dinner on our way down, and arrived soaked to the skin from an evening rainstorm. I led our bedraggled little group to a pew on the right-hand side of the church, all the way up at the front. As we filed in, I realized that the woman sitting directly in front of us was homeless.  She had several black garbage bags stuffed full of her belongings with her in the pew. She smelled. Her white hair was greasy, hanging in limp hanks across her shoulders, and her layer upon layers of clothing were dirty.

I sighed as I shuffled my kids to the other side, away from her.  “I don’t want to touch her,” I said to myself, the Kiss of Peace looming in my mind.  I couldn’t pay attention to the readings, or the homily, or even the music, as I worried about how I could avoid shaking her hand.  Maybe I could feign a cold, smiling politely as I pretended not to want to share my germs.  Perhaps I could duck out to go to the bathroom, using my youngest as a beard.  Or I could just occupy myself in the other direction, looking at her ruefully as we ran out of time to share a handshake.

I hadn’t quite picked my strategy when I saw her stand up to leave.  She exited the pew and headed up to the altar, placing her garbage bags over the altar rail.

“What on earth?” I wondered.  “Is she mentally disordered to boot?  Will someone need to do something?”

She walked over to one of the now ubiquitous containers of hand sanitizer and rubbed her hands together.  I watched her in bemusement, still not catching on.  As she approached the priest and the altar, I finally got it.  This woman whom I had disdained, this creature of God whom I had considered unworthy of my touch was going to distribute the Body of Christ to the community…to me, and it was I who was utterly unloveable and unworthy.  I burst into tears, and my oldest asked if I was ok.  I shook my head and got up to receive the Eucharist, great heaving sobs wracking my body and tears pouring down my face.

The woman smiled at me as I approached her and I swear to you, she could read my mind.  Her smile said to me that she knew me, she forgave me, and she loved me.  Her face now seemed beautiful to me, shining in the light of the candles and lanterns.  Of course she was beautiful, for she was Divine.

“The Body of Christ,” she said, placing the Host on my upturned palms.

“Amen,” I choked and I fled back to my pew and knelt, hiding my face in my hands.

I wept for the rest of mass.

I wish I could tell you that afterwards I approached her, and introduced myself and begged her pardon and hugged her and redeemed myself.  I could tell you that, but it would be untrue.  Here’s the end of the story.  After communion, she disappeared and I cried all the way home, eventually choking out what happened to my husband in sign language and words of one syllable, and even though this happened months ago, I’m crying writing it down now.

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Revolutionary Soccer Moms Unite!

April 29, 2013 at 3:46 am (Community, Faith, Politics) (, )

I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

Today’s homily, courtesy of Father Franciscan, belonged to my favorite phylum – we’ll call it:  “Jesus Was an Expletive Radical, and We’re Probably Not Doing it Right.”  (I won’t specify which expletive, since my dad reads the blog and I don’t want to offend him, and also, after the week I had I’m not sure how much credit I have Upstairs…but it rhymes with “plucking.”)

As he mulled over today’s gospel reading (excerpted above), FF asked why there were any poor among us if we were following Jesus’ commandment.  That’s an uncomfortable question to hear posed in our comfortably well-off parish.  I was SUPER uncomfortable when FF brought up St. Basil the Great, who said:

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

There are a LOT of garments hanging in my wardrobe.  My husband calls me a clothes horse, while I would say simply, “well-dressed.”  I don’t really want to share those garments, and in fact, I’d like to add more to the pile.  I told a friend after church today that were I to win the lottery (which would take a miracle, since I never buy a ticket) the only thing that would change would be the frequency with which I buy and the amount I spend on clothes.  So if you tell me that those same garments, both real and imagined, are really the property of the poor, well, I might drop another expletive.

On the other hand, yesterday at mass (double dipping in the church chip bowl this weekend – why aren’t I a better person?!  I should probably go to church tomorrow too), Father Pastor mentioned St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer, which is one of my very favorites of all time:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So I guess the take-home is that Christ wouldn’t be using his hands to order clothes on the interwebs or his feet to walk to the mall?  I have a LOT of work to do.

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